Gravitational Waves

In February 2016, astronomers announced the first-ever direct detection of gravitational waves, a phenomenon originally predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago in his theory of general relativity and sought after by physicists and astronomers for nearly 50 years. The discovery not only confirmed a prediction of general relativity but also opened an entirely new window to understanding the universe: the ability to explore the cosmos relying not just on light, but on gravity itself. Since the first announcement in 2016, five more gravitational-wave detections have been confirmed, including one detection in which both gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation were observed from the same event, collectively generating new insights into nuclear physics, the cosmic origin of heavy elements, and some of the most extreme objects in the universe.

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physical scienceBecky Hazen
Lead in U.S. Drinking Water

Drinking water is tightly regulated in the United States and, for the most part, is remarkably safe. Recent contamination episodes in Flint, Michigan, and elsewhere, however, have highlighted the fragility of this public health success story and the serious health risks lead poses in significant portions of the U.S. drinking water supply. Exposure to lead, even at low levels, has adverse health effects for people – especially children, pregnant women, and their developing fetuses. While these risks are widely known, lead continues to pervade the tap water of many American communities. This is due largely to the extreme difficulty and high cost of identifying, locating, removing, and preventing the many potential sources of lead across thousands of U.S. water systems, which vary widely in size, type, age, source supply, ownership, and maintenance.

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environment, healthBecky Hazen

The 2017 movie “Geostorm” tells a tale of technology misused as humankind makes a futile effort to control the changing climate. The movie is fiction, but talk of using “geoengineering” to reduce the risks of climate change is real—and could grow in volume as climate extremes become increasingly disruptive. A set of scientific papers released in November 2017 offered some of the most sophisticated estimates yet of how injections of aerosolized sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere might mitigate some consequences of climate change, while another paper published a few weeks later pointed to potentially problematic weather disruptions that could occur under certain geoengineering scenarios. A Congressional hearing on the topic, also held in November, reflected growing public interest in the topic and uncertainties surrounding geoengineering’s potential impacts. 

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